Children's bodies are not landfills

Opinion: Columns

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Stephanie Walquist

If you avoid phthalates and other chemicals for yourself and your children, then you might want a little heads-up about what will soon be installed at Ridgeland Common and could possibly be installed at Stevenson Park. The artificial "grass" is made from polyethylene, but it's the infill that is dangerous in my opinion.

So many of us are unaware of what crumb rubber is and why it can be so dangerous. Crumb rubber is made from recycled tires, containing all kinds of chemicals, such as phthalates (endocrine disrupter, anticipated carcinogen), carbon black (particularly scary — carbon nanoparticles can act like asbestos does), benzene (carcinogen), cadmium, and other kinds of chemicals that are not even revealed by tire manufacturers. Anything could be in there, and our children will be playing on it.

The infill should be regulated as a children's product. But it is not regulated at all. The quality of crumb rubber varies widely, and there are no long-term studies showing its safety. So as a mother and a person concerned about the environment, I look at what the ingredients are, and they are things I would not want in or on my children, in the air, in the soil, or in the water.

There are alternatives. We could stick with soil and grass and take better care of both. This does not mean pouring chemical herbicides, fertilizers, and pesticides onto the field. Improving the soil is key to the health of any plant. There are organic alternatives — compost would be a great one, regularly spreading a thin layer would be a sane option. Corn gluten fertilizes soil and is a pre-emergent "weed" suppressant (I would argue we need to change our attitudes about weeds anyway). In the interest of space, I won't go into all of the other facets of creating healthy soil and grass.

If we still decide a synthetic turf is the only way to go, then there are alternatives to crumb rubber. Cork is a possibility as are coconut fibers, which would also help to reduce the excessive heat produced by crumb rubber. These are natural and would not pose the hazards that come from crumb rubber.

Pros and cons need to be carefully weighed. I believe that manufacturers and vendors of synthetic turf minimize the potential dangers inherent in crumb rubber. These health effects might not be apparent for decades. I do not think that the benefits of artificial turf outweigh its risks.

I am against synthetic turf for other reasons. In this time of global warming, we should be trying to plant more plants, not remove such huge tracts of land and replace it with plastics, rubber and chemicals. We should be trying to improve the local environment, not damage it.

I understand that parents want their children to be physically active; I want my children to spend time outdoors doing physical activities too. But — I do not want my children or my fellow residents being exposed to such potentially damaging toxins. Watch this powerful video: and another featuring doctors and scientists: They give a balanced view of the issues. For further reading:

Let the park district know how you feel to help them in their decision-making process about these synthetic fields.

Reader Comments

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Ellie from Arlington  

Posted: June 13th, 2013 4:03 AM

I encourage anyone with childre and/or nterested in their own health to read Slow Death by Rubber Duck, a dramatic title but one very appropriate for a traumatic situation. Everyone has seen how corporate greed pushes its agenda i.e. tobacco industry & cigarettes, Monsanto & DDT. The EPA, FDA etc can't keep up. we are the people. I applaud my fellow humans for being awake and aware and helping keep me safe with their voice and their vote.

Leslie Roberts from Oak Park  

Posted: June 3rd, 2013 10:53 AM

Experiences of other states shows the harmful results on public health and the environment of doing a particular industrial procedure, Yet 108 to 9 Illinois lawmakers (not OP reps) still jumped at the chance for our state to make money doing the same industrial procedure knowing full well the operations regulations wanted by the industry are weak and unenforceable. Likewise, industries influence EPA studies and others upon which we rely to protect us from harm. My trust has been shattered.

Degreed Environmental Engineer from Oak Park  

Posted: May 17th, 2013 2:24 PM

Quote: "If you look at the studies themselves, you will see that they mention that there is a risk, a low risk, so then they deem it safe". Um, that's how environmental science works. Like so much of life, it's a matter of acceptable risk, not no risk. You may be shocked to learn that USEPA drinking water regulations allow up to 0.2 ppm of cyanide because that constitutes an acceptable level of risk.

No big deal  

Posted: May 17th, 2013 1:19 PM

I see where you're coming from, Jim. But you can't really expect the store manager to move the bottles just because some new study said "sunlight bad." We rely on larger scientific bodies to make general recommendations for the public. But, in the end, it is up to the user/consumer to make the final choice. In this case, you put down the field and let parents decide for themselves since product safety orgs have deemed them safe..yes, so far. But all knowledge is provisional. lol

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 17th, 2013 1:10 PM

OPRF Parent, I'm not looking for a study to support my point of view. In fact, I don't know if the new field actually does pose any significant risk to users and our local environment. Better to be safe than sorry. We've learned through the years that new research can sometimes identify a hazard that no one thought was out there. Consider the new report that advises water in plastic bottles be kept out of direct sunlight. I mentioned that to a manager at our local Jewel store and was told that the cases of bottles would stay piled up on along the south windows until corporate ordered them moved. The scientific evidence has shown dangerous levels of toxins can do real harm to women, especially it they are pregnant. Consumers should proceed caution. If the Park District has some solid information to share with the community, they should be willing to share it now. I trust you would have no objections.

No big deal  

Posted: May 17th, 2013 1:03 PM

Low risk involves our known levels of acceptable chemical exposure, etc.. I fully support taking a second look at whether those scientifically accepted standards are the correct levels or need adjustment. But the EPA study concluded that surface levels of contaminants were essentially background levels.

Stephanie Walquist  

Posted: May 17th, 2013 12:15 PM

If you look at the studies themselves, you will see that they mention that there is a risk, a low risk, so then they deem it safe. Not many of the studies have been in peer-reviewd journals. One study only put 3-4 people (soccer teams are larger; more players means more chemicals released), and then when chemicals were high in the personal air samples, they said that it was probably due to the equipment or the player himself. I find this kind of troubling.

No big deal  

Posted: May 17th, 2013 11:53 AM

Further research being done is not the same thing as controversy though. It's just further research. That's science. So far, the science says "safe." Show me the research saying "unsafe" and we will all change our minds. Until then, let's not be alarmist.


Posted: May 17th, 2013 11:14 AM

There's a controversy among scientists and health professionals-no one is drumming up a controversy for contrversy's sake...studies are limited--they say that for themselves. EPA even said that more info is needed.

No big deal  

Posted: May 17th, 2013 10:26 AM

Jim, you're asking the PD to provide "proof" for some high hurdle burden when these products have already been approved by multiple states, the EPA, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, etc. as safe for everyone. Unless critics have new data, the science has spoken. It's drumming up a controversy that only exists because people are trying to create one.

EPA Report  

Posted: May 17th, 2013 10:18 AM

Classified as a human carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization. the following ?Skin cancer (melanoma and nonmelanoma) ?Premature aging of the skin and other skin problems ?Cataracts and other eye damage ?Immune system suppression Oh, sorry again, that is the sun.

From a March 2013 Article  

Posted: May 17th, 2013 10:12 AM

The dangerous side effects include the following, but are not limited to them: 1.Brain Damage to babies 2.Causes Cancer 3.Causes Damage to Gums 4.Thyroid Damage 5.Neurological Problems 6.Weak Immune System Oh, sorry that is an article on fluoride in the water supply.

OPRF parent from Oak Park  

Posted: May 17th, 2013 10:08 AM

Jim, what you are really saying is that an independent study hasn't surfaced that supports your point of view. Studies on all sides of any issue can be biased. It seems to me that the turf "industry" (& any industry really) works under the constant threat of legal action & financial liability. The anti-turf side doesn't so it can claim any "danger" it wants without threat. That aside, the PD board & staff have studied this for years, & spoken accordingly. Sorry you didn't get your way.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 17th, 2013 9:39 AM

You are correct about the artificial turf fields at OP-RF. The questions about potential dangers to users and our local environment have not been subjected to any independent study and as Stephanie points out in her postings, the effects may not be apparent for decades. Dismissing some serious concerns as "fundamentalist envronmentalists will never be happy" still does not answer the questions about public safety and health. Let the Park District director and commissioners share their data with the community and we'll see if they are able to prove these fields pose no danger. To date, none of people responsible for making the decision to install the new surface at Ridgeland Common have been willing to go on the record. That's unacceptable.

No big deal  

Posted: May 17th, 2013 9:37 AM

On one hand, I understand the concern. But it strikes me as a little wacky at some point..not unlike the "vaccine people." The good these fields do outweighs the supposed "risks." Nothing in life is safe. I don't mind if others object and keep their kids off the field. But most of us will gladly and willingly put our kids out on the turf without guilt.

OPRF parent from Oak Park  

Posted: May 17th, 2013 8:55 AM

There have been synthetic turf fields in Oak Park for almost a dozen years. The stadium & practice/lacrosse/field hockey/soccer field/track have been used by thousands of OP residents, mostly youth but by adults & seniors too (including last week's breast cancer walk). To date, NO reported adverse health effects. No cancer, no odd virus', no birth defects, no nothing. What more study do you need when it's worked in your own community? The fundamentalist environmentalists will never be happy.

Stephanie W  

Posted: May 17th, 2013 8:09 AM

@Nick--re: carbon black, carbon nanoparticles, and carbon nanotubes--are a real concern, and I'll take the word of toxicologists, environmental health scientists, pediatricians over the word of a rubber chemist or the manufacturers of crumb rubber, thanks.

Stephanie W  

Posted: May 17th, 2013 8:03 AM

No one knows how the chemicals react to each other in the human body with all of the different routes of exposure--inhalation, ingestion, and dermal exposure. We don't need any more of these chemicals in the air, soil, water or in/on our bodies. Too many unknowns. Why can't do the BEST for our kids? I refuse to be cynical that our world is so polluted anyway that what's a little more chemical risk. It's time to start keepng our world cleaner for the sake of the children, Clean fields is a start

Stephanie Walquist  

Posted: May 17th, 2013 7:57 AM

At first I was lulled into a sense of security by those studies listed on synturfcouncil, but then I started to learn more about what chemicals are in tires; how there is NO control about the ingredients that make up the crumb rubber simply because tires have so many different ingredients and recipes depending on the manufacturer and the type of tire. NONE of those studies consider what happens when MANY chemicals get inhaled. They only look at the risk factor for each chemical.

Jocelyne from Oak Park  

Posted: May 16th, 2013 10:18 PM

Consensus on the safety of synthetic surf appears unlikely, however in my opinion, a risk is a risk, even if it is a low risk: Do we want to take that chance when it comes to the health of our children? I certainly do not. I urge the Park District to reconsider their decision to use synthetic turf in Oak Park parks and schools, for the health of our children, our community and our planet!

Marnelle Curtis from Oak Park  

Posted: May 15th, 2013 5:41 PM

Recycled crumb rubber contains a number of chemicals that are known or suspected to cause health effects. The most common types of synthetic rubber used in tires are composed of ethylene?"propylene and styrene?"butadiene combined with vulcanizing agents, fillers, plasticizers, and antioxidants in different quantities, depending on the manufacturer. Tire rubber also contains polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), phthalates, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 15th, 2013 4:42 PM

That's a very important issue, Michele. What method will be used to determine the surface temperature and who is going to be responsible for obtaining those figures? It does not seem appropriate to assign that task to a young staff member or youth activity volunteer. Monitoring the field is going to be a key safety factor especially during extreme heat periods. The benefits of having a playing surface that can been used more often should not outweigh the potential health safety risks. The Park District director or board president need to share more information with the community.

Michele M from Oak Park  

Posted: May 15th, 2013 3:09 PM

I just relocated from NYC (the worlds largest buyer of fake grass) and there have been many, many problems, and many, many cover ups by the city to deny them (you know the people that are "educated" and we are supposed to trust). Since the health issues have already been mentioned, (and these are real issues) including high levels of lead, another issue is HEAT. Did you know these fields reach temperatures higher than asphalt? Do we really need anything hotter these days?

Lori M  

Posted: May 15th, 2013 2:42 PM

Mann School neighbor - I meant the synthetic recycled tire product used on the actual playgrounds. (and no additional comment needed on that other neighbor!)

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 15th, 2013 1:46 PM

Stephanie, you're right about the need for the surface to be regularly treated and that leads to another question about runofff. Someone advised in a earlier post to trust that "the people at the Park District are professional" but there are some very legit concerns. I understand the need for multi-use fields and being able to access the areas while having deal with weather issues like we experience in the midwest. I'm just not convinced that what may be real health concerns about surface temperatures, contaminated water runoff and chemical treatments should be brushed aside. Rather than just relying on an industry study or the manufacturer's word; it is important to hear from independent sources with experience. Do we know if the Park District professionals or board members have ever had this project evaluated by a reliable public health expert?


Posted: May 15th, 2013 1:21 PM

I write as a rubber chemist in the UK. There ARE certain chemicals in older tyres that have been removed from more current manufacturing process. PAH, 2EH, nonylphenols, nitrosamines and zinc wash-off are legitimate concerns; carbon black and phthalates are not. The levels detected under the 'worst' conditions of high temps, little wind, etc, at ground levels are considered negligable. There's more hazard on the journey to the park than playing on crumb infilled grass. Stay real.

Lori M  

Posted: May 15th, 2013 11:20 AM

I haven't done any research on this topic - all I can tell you is my personal experience. When they used this product for the park re-do near Mann School, my eyes burned like fire every time I was near the stuff. Based n that, I think it bears looking into.

Bring on the Turf  

Posted: May 15th, 2013 10:46 AM

The key to this article is "in your opinion." What will you do when you child has to use the field at oprfhs or other sports locations outside of oak park, refuse to let them play.

No big deal  

Posted: May 15th, 2013 10:45 AM

For anyone looking for the other's some FAQ from the Synthetic Turf Council. The EPA, several states have done studies, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission have approved synthetic turf for children and people of all ages with test results "below levels of concern." In some instances it is actually safer and more environmentally friendly. Read all the info and decide for yourself.

Stephanie Walquist  

Posted: May 15th, 2013 9:55 AM

Here is a link to a study done about the correlation between carbon black and decreased cognition. The study isn't about crumb rubber, but tires contain a pretty large percentage of carbon black. Do we know for sure it won't get into players', spectators', and residents' lungs?

Stephanie Walquist  

Posted: May 15th, 2013 9:51 AM

Jim--I'm not sure about what will happen with the run-off--there is a drainage under the crumb rubber and plastic carpet. The water would go in the soil or into the sewer. From what I've read, the field will need some kind of disinifectant, but I don't know what the PD has in mind.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 15th, 2013 9:10 AM

Has the issue of water runoff and how often the surface will be cleaned been addressed?

Stephanie Walquist  

Posted: May 15th, 2013 8:53 AM

Laura--Indeed phthalates are found in crumb rubber. Page 8  

Posted: May 15th, 2013 8:50 AM

The studies they used to defend the turf are old and do not take into account the unknown chemicals used. Carbon black is not mentioned, nor are carbon nanotubes. Watch the videos that have experts commenting on the dangers. Too much is unknown. I can think for myself--no need to insult me and others who are simply concerned about their children. Toxicologist Dr. David Brown and Neurobiologist Dr Kathleen Michels:

OP parent  

Posted: May 15th, 2013 8:35 AM

Rubber tires are typically classified by some states as "hazardous waste." Other states refer to them as "special waste." Many different toxic additives and chemicals are used to produce rubber tires. Among these toxins are cadmium, chromium, aluminum, copper, sulfur and zinc. Bits of the rubber mulch contain small pieces of steel and nylon. Other harmful chemicals found in tires are benzene, phthalates, butylated hydroxyanisole, 3-phenyl and latex.

OP Resident # 545 from Oak Park  

Posted: May 15th, 2013 8:20 AM

There is so much nonsense in this opinion piece it boggles the mind, but for goodness sakes, the people at the Park District are professionals who work every day with soils, grass, plantings of all types, the many demands of a diverse populace, & most important, not enough open space for everything. Many people w/much greater knowledge than the author spent years going through all these issues. They all have kids too & I don't think they'd deliberately put them at risk. Please think, don't emote


Posted: May 15th, 2013 7:30 AM

There are no phthalates in tires or the rubber used in tires. Get your facts straight before you start scare-mongering.

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